The Consent Workshop Understanding Sexual Grooming
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By: Tolu Ojeshina

Tolu is a development practitioner, writer, and volunteer at The Consent Workshop. She is passionate about dialogue and conversations that promote the development, advancement, and protection of women.

 Sexual grooming is a preparatory process in which a perpetrator gradually gains a person’s trust with the intent to be sexually abusive. It involves laying a foundation for sexual abuse or rape by building a relationship with a victim over time. The rationale for grooming, is to ensure that there are no repercussions for sexual violence, because the victim either trusts you enough to believe abuse did not occur, or thinks reporting/ asking for help is a betrayal of trust. 

For the most part, rape has been understood to always involve violence or to be perpetrated by unknown abusers. We hear stories of a ‘man who hid in the bushes to attack women in the dead of the night’. The constant retelling of these stories as cautionary tales by society as well the media serve to reenforce the archetype that there is a perfect victim; the kind that did everything ‘right’ in the eyes of society. It is unfathomable to some that a victim who knows her abuser, or has a relationship with said person is actually a victim. This line of thinking is one of the predominant causes of victim shaming; women who are raped by their friends, partners or husbands (Yes, it is possible to be raped by a partner or spouse) are subjected to a barrage of questions aimed at attacking their credibility

This is when the rape apologists begin their 5 W’s and 1 H; the Why’s (Why did she go to his house? Why did she agree initially?), What’s (What was she wearing? What did she do to force his hand?), and so forth. We have already established that ALL women deserve to be protected from ALL forms of sexual abuse and rape but it might take some education for some people to get in on the ALL part of this statement. This is what The Consent Workshop exists for.

Here are some things we should all know about sexual grooming: 

Children are more susceptible, but adults can be victims too – Because of the innocence and naivety of children, they are usually more susceptible to grooming. Sexual predators in the form of parents, teachers, uncles, aunties, other family members, neighbors etc. build a relationship with child victims by enticing them with attention, favors and gifts. There have been so many survivors who have gained the courage to speak out about abuse they received from such persons after so many years. Part of the reason it takes so long for victims to report is because they’ve been groomed over a long period; some of them feel they are at fault because of manipulative thoughts fed to them by their groomers. Adults who are victims can be those in vulnerable situations where they require help/ assistance (e.g. sex for work, and sex for grades), or those who are close to predators in positions of authority (e.g. religious and political leaders).

Grooming can occur in relationships that are seemingly consensualIntimate partner violence and sexual abuse is far more common than people realize. Partners who are overly jealous, controlling, and prefer for their significant others not to have relationships with other people, do so because outside interference affects their ability to abuse unchecked. Husbands/ boyfriends can groom their partners to believe that (1) They can’t be loved by anyone else apart from them, and (2) They deserve the ‘type’ of love they receive from their abusers, which is usually manipulative and destructive. This is the reason why a lot of women in relationships do not believe in spousal/ intimate partner rape but have actually experienced it numerous times.

Grooming can facilitate the development of Stockholm’s syndrome – Stockholm syndrome is a feeling of trust or affection developed by a victim towards an abuser or captor. An example in the Nigerian context would be girls abducted by the Boko Haram sect in the North Eastern part of the country, who now claim to be in love with their captors and want to return to them when rescued. Stockholm syndrome is usually applied in incidents of kidnapping/ hostage situations, but can also apply to sexual abuse. Research has shown that victims of sexual grooming can develop the syndrome; victims can form a bond with their abusers, especially in cases of intimate partner sexual violence. 

The world has watched as the sexual abuse allegations against musician R. Kelly have continued to unfold. He has been accused of allegations of child sex abuse for over 20 years including, making indecent images of minors, racketeering and obstruction of justice. He has also been accused of “seducing under age women when they approached him for help with their music careers, before taking control of their lives – dictating “what they eat, how they dress, when they bathe, when they sleep, and how they engage in sexual encounters that he records”. This is according to a Buzzfeed report published in 2017. Robert Sylvester Kelly, is by all intentions and purposes a sexual groomer.

Nigeria also has its fair share of sexual groomers including Pastor Biodun Fatoyinbo who was accused by 2 of his church members of rape in 2019. Listening to the accounts of the victims, there was a systematic way in which he identified his targets, and gained their trust. For both victims, he claimed to take special interest in their lives and spiritual growth, and also offered them the opportunity to care for his children thereby establishing a bond. It took both victims years to speak out, because he expressed to them that they should feel grateful for what he had done, considering his position as a pastor. Biodun Fatoyinbo is also unequivocally a sexual groomer and predator.

There are numerous resources available online on how to identify victims of sexual grooming and protect them. It is necessary for us to be armed with such information on our quest to make the world safer and sexual abuse free.